discovering dry eye
A Winter Warning for Contact Lens Wearers
BY BARBARA CAFFERY, OD, MS
As the days become shorter and colder, we protect our bodies and ears with all matter of appropriate outerwear. As our skin dries out with the wind and cold of winter, we use more lotions and creams to preserve the surface layer of cells and reduce our symptoms of dry itchy skin. The heat goes on in many offices and homes at this time of year, creating dry warm environments that promote tear film evaporation and symptoms of dryness. Is it any wonder that our patients will arrive with increased dry eye symptoms? We need to advise our patients of their increased risk for symptoms and give them ways to reduce the discomfort.
Keep Wearing Your Shades
Contact lens wearers are used to protecting their eyes with sunglasses in the summer months, but many patients put away their non-prescription sunglasses as the days become grayer and shorter. Sunglasses are one means to protect the surface of the eye from the bitter winds of winter. They are hardly appropriate to wear on dull days, so you should encourage patients to obtain lightly tinted non-prescription glasses for wear during winter. Thank goodness for fashion and the style of blue, yellow and orange tints which can be worn everywhere and will protect our patients' eyes.
Drop in Some Moisture
Every contact lens wearer should have appropriate eyedrops for use with contact lenses during these months. To avoid the drying effects of the heated office space, it is best to prescribe a regimen of use on arrival at the office, at lunch and mid-afternoon. You can also advise patients to wash their hands well and remove lenses at lunch time for a soak in fresh storage solution. By rehydrating the lens, the afternoon wear should be much easier. Patients with conventional lenses should bring a spare pair to the office to change into at the mid point of the day.
Lenses soil much faster at this time of year because they coat faster in drier eyes. You should therefore encourage all patients to rub and rinse well each night and if necessary to replace their disposable lenses more often.
Add Moisture to the Air
Humidifying the home and the office space is a great way to ensure comfortable contact lens wear during the dry winter months. Inexpensive portable humidifiers can be placed near a patient's desk and in the main areas of the home. It not only helps the surface of the eye but also provides moisture for the mucous membranes of the mouth and nasal passages.
We all know how to bundle up to stay warm, but do we know how to advise our patients about the hazards of dry eye in winter months? On each visit, go over the checklist in Table 1. This will allow our patients to have more comfortable winter wear of their contact lenses. It is easy and it works.
TABLE 1: Winter Weather Dry Eye Relief Checklist
1. Non-prescription glasses to protect from dry, cold winds, even on dull days
2. Drops to use routinely and on schedule
3. A lunchtime soak or change of lenses if necessary
4. Humidification of home and work environments
5. Clean lenses well
6. Replace lenses more often if necessary
Dr. Caffery has practiced optometry in Toronto, Canada, in a group setting dedicated to contact lens and tear film research since 1977.